credit illustration from “Days with Frog and Toad”, Arnold Lobel
Epiphany/Baptism of our Lord, January 10, 2021
St. Martin North Vancouver
God, give me the grace to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
Toad woke up.
“This house is a mess.
I have so much work to do.”
Frog looked in through the window.
“Toad, you are right,”
Said Frog. “It is a mess.”
Toad pulled the covers over his head.
“I will do it tomorrow,” said Toad.
“Today I will take life easy.”
Frog came into the house.
“Toad,” said Frog,
Your pants and jacket are lying on the floor.”
“Tomorrow,” said Toad from under the covers.
“Your kitchen sink is filled with dirty dishes,” said Frog.
“Tomorrow,” said Toad.
“There is dust on your chairs.”
“Tomorrow,” said Toad.
“Your windows need scrubbing,” said Frog.
“Your plants need watering,”
“Tomorrow!” cried Toad.
“I will do it all tomorrow!”
Toad sat on the edge of his bed.
“Blah,” said Toad.
“I feel down in the dumps.”
“Why?” asked Frog.
“I am thinking about tomorrow,” said Toad.
“I am thinking about all of the many things that I will have to do.”
“Yes,” said Frog,
“tomorrow will be a very hard day for you.”
- Arnold Lobel’s “Tomorrow” from Days with Frog and Toad, c1979.
I confess that I am tempted on some mornings to pull the covers over my head and put off what I know needs to get done. The recently disruptions in our lives has made time feel strangely elastic. Sometimes the days are long and the weeks flow into each other without us quite realizing how the hours have disappeared. It’s easy to procrastinate when living in what feels like a holding pattern, waiting for things to get better. But it is in our challenges here and now that God intersects with the world. Never mind waiting for tomorrow. The gospel call is to act immediately.
Mark’s gospel speaks of the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God. The book doesn’t stop to give us his birth and background; it plunges right in at the moment when Jesus is thirty years old. Already we are moving at full speed. Two weeks ago was Christmas, with the nativity of a baby at Bethlehem. On Wednesday was Epiphany, when the wise men came to worship the child as the King of the Jews, revealing him as Lord of all the nations. Now today we hear of the start of his public ministry with baptism by John in the Jordan river. From here on in, the sequences of Jesus’ life and ministry are cut together like film scenes, leaving gaps in between that make us wonder and do our own work to discern meaning. That things are happening quickly is signalled throughout Mark’s narrative by the use of one word in particular: “immediately”.
That word occurs 41 times in Mark’s account, compared to only 10 times in all of the rest of the New Testament. You don’t notice it as much in the small passages that make it into the Sunday readings. If you begin reading larger sections, however, it becomes evident. Our bible study group has nicknamed Mark the “caffeine gospel”, and commented that it feels like a fast train to Jerusalem. The writer deliberately chose to use the word “immediately” to signpost the action and drive it forward. At the same time, “immediately” also carries the sense of God’s presence within the developments. This is the in-breaking of the kingdom. Paul S. Berge, in Luther Seminary’s online resource Enter the Bible, says that “in the gospel of Mark the teaching, deeds, and life of Jesus reveal the intrusion of the good news into human experience.” Every time Jesus crosses a boundary, heals a person, and sends his followers into ministry, God’s grace and power are revealed. But Mark’s story, told in 16 chapters, is still only the beginning of the good news. The message reaches forward to us today.
When people respond to God’s call, the effect is immediate. We have the witnesses of the gospel. John the Baptist understood his ministry to be the new Elijah, to call the people of Israel back to right relationship with God. He found courage to go out into the countryside and preach repentance and forgiveness to those who would listen. The people who were drawn to him found new hope for their lives and began to see the possibilities of what they could do, rather than the burdens of religious responsibility. Then Jesus appeared, from a nowhere town in a backwater of Israel called Galilee. He follows the other folk down to the water for John’s simple ritual of cleansing. And in that baptism, Jesus’ will is one with God’s for the repentance and redemption of the world. For the people standing there, it was the biblical equivalent of fireworks. The heavens are torn apart, the Spirit descends like a dove on Jesus, and a voice from heaven booms approval. “You are my Son, my beloved: with you I am well pleased.”
The reading stops there for us, but the following verse is important. Mark 1:12 reads “and the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” There it is: the first of the 41 “immediatelys” in this gospel. That proclamation from heaven at baptism propelled Jesus’ mission. He didn’t go back to Nazareth, but straight into the wilderness to come face to face with temptation and the way he was choosing. His baptism wasn’t just a special moment in his ministry but a gate into the straight path of the way of the Lord.
What are we going to do about this man who lived and loved and died two thousand years ago, who his followers say is raised from the dead? What does he have to do with our world today, or tomorrow for that matter? It seems to me that if we believe in Jesus, there is no putting off the gospel. We discover, like his first disciples, that when we follow, there are immediate signs of the kingdom around us. We can ignore them, or try to pull the covers over our head. But they are not going to stop coming. Where we get overwhelmed is thinking that God is demanding us to somehow singlehandedly make things better. That if only we picked up all the garbage and cleaned up all our institutions and tended all of creation we could save the world all by ourselves. That is never going to happen. Not today. But even though we can’t fix everything, that shouldn’t paralyze us from doing something. That is in our power, through Jesus Christ.
Our promises to be followers of Christ rest in God’s help to keep the good news alive and shared. The things we do today can be part of that. Rather than worry about what is beyond your control (let’s leave that to God for tomorrow), consider what is within your capacity today. May God give you courage to do the things you can, and change the world immediately for good. Amen.